When Antonio Tajani - the new EU Transport Commissioner - addressed the European Parliament's Transport Committee for the first time, in September, he stated that aviation safety is an "absolute priority" for him, as much as it is a "permanent challenge". On safety "no compromise is possible. It can never be a parameter for adjustment." Is Tajani becoming the new "Tarzan" of Europe's aviation safety?
This is certainly what the European pilot community would expect from "their" Commissioner. While his term in office is limited until late summer 2009, and with the European Parliament effectively "retiring" after March 2009, there are nevertheless many areas where safety needs an urgent push between now and then.
One of the key issues is the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Having seen its mandate extended to Flight Operations and Flight Crew Licensing, in March 2008, work is currently under way to extend EASA's remit also to the safety of aerodromes and air traffic management. However, to fulfill such a broad safety mission, the Agency must be adequately funded. ECA has long demanded that EASA is fully financed by public money to be given the independent resources it needs. ECA therefore supports a fundamental review of EASA's financing mechanisms, as currently suggested by several Members of the European Parliament.
EASA also urgently needs expert knowledge. Being now the primary safety rule-making body in Europe, its rules cannot be drafted from a legalistic perspective alone. Instead, they must be synchronized with "reality out there". They must be drafted in a way that those who have to comply with them can actually understand them. ECA therefore supports the creation of permanent issue-specific expert groups - which include all major aviation stakeholders - to advise the Agency on rule-making and their implementation.
In our efforts to achieve a 'fatal accident free system', we must be able to derive the maximum possible benefit from any accident or incident. What is important is that we can learn from such events in order to prevent them from occurring again. For this, we need incident reporting / accident investigation schemes that are based on "Just Culture" and protect against the release or use in judicial proceedings of information gathered by reporting programs or accident investigations.
It is therefore encouraging that Commissioner Tajani announced - for 2009 - a revision of the EU's Accident Investigation and the Occurrence Reporting Directives. One priority must be to better protect the reporter of critical safety information and a strong emphasis on Just Culture. However, such a revision has been promised for over a year, and 2008 has so far seen very little progress. If the Commission is serious, we need to see progress soon, so it can present a strong legislative proposal to the newly elected European Parliament next year.
The Commissioner also promised to introduce a minimum number of SAFA inspections per EU Member State each year, and announced that beefed-up safety inspections could lead to the inclusion of European airlines on the EU's "black list".
Being more serious about safety inspections is welcome; also that EU airlines should not be overlooked. However, minimum numbers will have little effect. What we need are:
- more intelligent, better targeted inspections both of EU and third country airlines, carried out by properly trained inspectors.
- a better-resourced EASA standardisation department, able to carry out effective inspections at national level, ensuring a uniform level of safety oversight across the EU.
- better trained and better-resourced National Aviation Authorities - especially in some of the newer EU Member States - to ensure they understand the rules and are able to enforce them.
Finally, the Commission recently published a set of ambitious proposals to reorganise the Single European Sky - the so-called "SES II Package" (see Cockpit News, Oct. 2008). This initiative and the expected growth of air traffic can only succeed if safety is built in Europe's future Air Traffic Management system right from the beginning.
Aviation safety is a complex issue, a permanent challenge, and merits priority attention by the EU Institutions. The new Commissioner has the opportunity to ensure such priority is given, and ECA will play its part to keep safety high on Europe's political agenda.